Tonhalle Orchester Zürich

Rosamunde – Overture
She Was Here [UK premiere]
Symphony No.4

Dawn Upshaw (soprano)

Tonhalle Orchester Zürich
David Zinman

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 29 August, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Tonhalle Orchester Zürich demonstrates all the qualities one expects of its homeland’s watches and countryside: accuracy, elegance, and beauty. There are some of Europe’s tallest mountains in that country. Climbing them is a leisurely experience, and so, too, was the scaling of the music for this orchestra in this concert, beginning with Schubert’s overture for “Rosamunde” (which was originally composed for “Die Zauberharfe”). It is a delightful piece, and the Orchestra ably explored the refined, lyrical and sweeping character of the music.

Dawn UpshawArgentinian-born Osvaldo Golijov has taken four of Schubert’s songs (“Wandrers Nachtlied”, “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt”, “Daß sie hier gewesen” and “Nacht und Träume”) and has given them a different coating, at times magical, and always calming and still, almost meditative. The four songs express ideas of longing and tantalising goals; this cavernous hall aiding the music by giving it a heightened, apposite ‘distance’. The opening of “Wandrers Nachtlied”, in which the Wayfarer is searching for rest, has an orchestral introduction of sublime calm – percussion shimmering with a beat from harp and celesta. Dawn Upshaw’s voice struggled with the opening’s low register, but she gathered herself for soul-searching and longing. The ethereal nature of “Daß sie hier gewesen” was fully realised by Golijov’s imaginative and delicate scoring, with Upshaw’s intimate singing at one with the words. The languor of “Nacht und Träume”, contented rather than resigned in death, evoked Mahlerian traits.

David Zinman. Photograph: davidzinman.orgMahler’s Fourth Symphony found the Orchestra, and its Chief Conductor David Zinman, able to sustain an over-arching line throughout the symphony’s sixty minutes. The opening, marked “bedächtig” (deliberate), misfired, the sleigh-bells afraid to make their sound, though Zinman brought out well Mahler’s myriad instructions to bring changes of character rather than tempo. Dynamics were well-judged, allowing the movement’s climax to erupt and suitably unsettle things.

In the second movement, the leader of the orchestra plays a violin devilishly tuned a tone higher than normal and here affected the music subliminally rather than overtly. It was effective, but it was a pity that applause disturbed the close of the first two movements, the second such intrusion not assisting concentration for the opening of the slow movement, here began with a sweep that heralded something special and which maintained its careful line. The strings shone, Zinman shaping blissful stasis without sounding contrived. Thankfully, so as to avoid further ruinous applause, Zinman went straight into the finale; the orchestral accompaniment was perfectly-judged, never intruding on Upshaw’s contributions, which were sensitively handled, and which rounded-off a performance that took Mahler’s symphony as written.The encore, not really needed, was ‘Azerbaijan Love Song’ from Luciano Berio’s “Folk Songs”.

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